The Canon 1D Mark IV is the most customizable camera I’ve ever used. It has dozens of settings that allow you to tune it to your exact needs. Wading through all those settings, though, can be challenging, especially if you don’t have a lot of time for trial and error.
After using the camera for more than two months of intensive wildlife photography, I’ve finally settled on autofocus settings that I really like. I’m sharing them with you because I’m often asked for my settings. Remember, these are settings that I like. Your style of shooting may be completely different, which is why the ability to change these settings exists in the first place.
With the exception of the following, I’ve left the other autofocus settings on the C.fn III menu at their default settings:
C.fn III-2 AI Servo tracking sensitivity
One step below middle. If you’re tracking something and something passes between you and the thing your tracking, this setting governs how long the camera will wait before refocusing on your selected focus point. The more you move the point to the left, the longer the camera will wait to refocus. The default setting actually works fine, but this is what I used with the Mark III series and it still seems to work well.
C.fn III-4 AI Servo AF tracking method
I switched this to 1, which turns on continuous AF track priority. This setting tells the camera whether it should concentrate on the focus point you selected, or the object it thinks you’re tracking. It’s designed for sports photographers. It will tell the camera to continue tracking a player even if a referee briefly gets in the way. For wildlife photography, it makes it easier to track birds, even when you can’t keep the autofocus point on the same spot.
C.fn III-5 Lens drive when AF impossible
I switched this to 1, “focus search off.” I found that with the default setting, the camera is way too quick to give up trying to lock focus. In its default setting, the camera then defocuses and slowly works its way through its range until it can focus on something. Problem is, when you’re working with a long lens and a bird that’s far off, when the lens defocuses, the viewfinder becomes a complete blur. It’s focusing close with a lens that has very little depth of field. When the viewfinder is a complete blur, it’s impossible for you to keep the autofocus point on the bird, and therefore the camera is never able to lock focus on anything. I’m having much more success by turning focus search off. When the camera can’t immediately lock focus, take your finger off the shutter (or AF button), compose so your autofocus point is back on top of the bird, and then try to focus again. You may need to repeat that process a few times for tricky subjects, but this works a million times better than the focus search method.
C.fn III-6 Lens AF stop button function
I set this to 7, “Spot AF.” On long telephoto lenses, there are little black buttons on the ring near the lens hood. These are called AF stop buttons. This camera setting determines what those buttons do when they’re held down. Spot AF, a new feature, is like spot metering. It causes the camera to concentrate on a small portion within an autofocus point. It’s supposed to allow it to lock focus in challenging conditions. It helps me a little when the animal is in front of a busy background, though the main reason I switched this to 7 is that I have absolutely no use for the other settings.
C.fn III-8 AF expansion with selected point
I set this to 2, “surrounding AF points.” When you’re tracking a bird (or anything else) this setting tells the camera whether or not it can use AF points besides the one you selected to help with tracking. The AF point expansion is handy, because it is incredibly hard to keep one single AF point on the very same part of a moving object. The 0 setting turns any assistance off; the 3 setting turns all autofocus points on. In theory, you’d think you would want to use 3 – to get any help you can get. In practice, when set to 3, the camera gets distracted very easily. It’s quick to focus on anything that’s closer than what you want to track. When tracking a bald eagle, for example, the camera quickly jumped from the eye (which is what I wanted in focus) to the tip of the wing closest to me. The setting 2 – surrounding AF points – allows the camera to use the AF points that are in a ring around the point you selected, and works very well.
C.fn III-9 Multi-controller when metering
I set this to 1, which allows you to use the “joystick” to select a new autofocus point. I love this feature because it allows me to quickly change my composition. If the bird suddenly changes direction, for example, I can rapidly move the autofocus point to the opposite side of the viewfinder to give the bird “room” to fly in my composition. A friend of mine who photographs sports, however, hates this feature because he accidentally bumps the joystick – and accidentally changes his autofocus point.
C.fn III-16 Orientation linked AF point
I set this to 1, which allows you to select separate autofocus points for when the camera is horizontal and vertical. When I can, I try to get horizontal and vertical images of a subject – you never know how a client will want to use an image. With this feature set to 1, I can quickly switch my orientation back and forth without having to change the autofocus point each time. The point that I selected when the camera was horizontal will automatically be made active when the camera is horizontal. I can select a completely different point that will become active when the camera is vertical.
Bonus autofocus tip
I've found the thing that makes the biggest difference in my autofocus success rate is not any one camera setting, it's how you use the AI Servo mode. I've found that if I track the bird with the shutter half-pressed for a short period — a half-second or so — the Canon 1D Mark IV locks focus and holds it amazingly well.
Have your own autofocus tips or preferred settigs? Share them in the comments section!